State Capitol News
7:56 am
Mon August 23, 2010

First Thing First TV commercial raises questions

Phoenix, AZ – Voters established the program to promote early childhood
development and education in 2006. It's funded by an 80-cent-a-
pack tax on cigarettes. This spring, state lawmakers, looking to
balance the budget, concluded the $135 million a year the tax
raises would be better spent elsewhere. But they can't abolish
the program themselves since it was created by initiative. So
instead they put the question of getting rid of it on the ballot
as Proposition 302. Earlier this month T-V viewers began seeing a
new 30-second commercial featuring children.

(They raise their hands because someone held theirs. They smile
because someone was happy to help. They say I can because someone
said they could. Good things are happening in Arizona with First
Things First. First Things First helps Arizona's youngest kids
receive the quality early education, healthcare and family
support they need to be ready for kindergarten, elementary school
and beyond. Help prepare our kids and Arizona for success.)

And it ends with the words First Things First and the
organization's web address. The current "buy'' for the commercial
has it running this month and next at a cost of $489,000. That's
on top of the $143,000 First Things First paid to a public
relations firm to put it together. Rhiann Allvin, executive
director of the Early Childhood Development and Health Board, the
formal name of the agency, said there's nothing political about
the ad and other P-R efforts.

(The point of the TV and the billboads and everything is to drive
people to ReadyAZkids.com, which is all factual information about
what they can do to help kids.)

Allvin also pointed out that the official language of Proposition
302 makes no mention of "First Things First,'' instead using the
formal name of the board. She said that proves the TV campaign
touting the "good things'' that First Things First is doing is
unrelated to the ballot measure. But the publicity campaign
against Proposition 302, which already has collected more than
$121,000, is labeled "Save First Things First.'' And virtually
all the statements in opposition to Proposition 302 talk about
the program as First Things First. Then there's the question of
the timing, coming in the months before the Nov. 2 vote.

(In my opinion, to be totally honest with you, I started in
February, my opinion is we should have been doing this two years
ago. In fact, the regions built money into their budgets for the
public awareness component of our work long ago.)

But she said a decision was made to have a statewide effort
rather than each of the 31 regions running their own PR
campaigns. Allvin said the campaign was planned in April 2009.
She said it didn't get off the ground until now because of some
internal staff changes. For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard
Fischer.